An Atonement Worth Mentioning

The other day, our son and daughter dropped by with their new rescue dog, Layla. Now, Layla is adorable, but she is not so sure about other dogs.  When Ragna comes close, she growls and shows her teeth and acts like she is going to take a chunk out of Ragna’s ear.  Now, Ragna responds like a gentleman. He backs off and finds a safe spot where he can be alone. He also acts out his anxiety by chewing on things.  This time, he found a bag of Scrabble tiles and tossed them on the couch. But he only chewed on three of them. He chewed on the “R.” He chewed on the “Q.” And he chewed on the “L.” We figured he was trying to send a message; we are not just sure what it means. It could stand fo,r “Layla, Quit! Ragna.” Or it could be, “Layla quarrels

One Final Dunk

Last Sunday, an anonymous person, let’s call him Paul, stopped and asked me about last week’s blog, particularly the question regarding private baptisms. As you recall, I said private baptisms are not allowed. Paul countered that Philip’s baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 was a private baptism and that my answer was mistaken. In times like these, I have several options. I can excommunicate Paul and send his membership to a church in the Northern North Alaskan Presbytery (that’s where all inappropriate question mongers go). Or I can demand that Paul read our Book of Church Order five times while standing on his head (chapter 56:2 says it clearly: “Baptism is not to be privately administered, but in the presence of the congregation under the supervision of the session”). Or I can quote from The Blues Brothers where Jake tries to explain to the “Mystery Woman” why he

Questions, Questions and More Questions

Questions, questions and more questions; all of a trivial variety (since you did so well last time).  On average, what is the thing that Americans do 22 times in a day? What is the real name of the Cookie Monster? What animals have fingerprints other than humans? Who sang about being an “eggman” and a “walrus”? Where were fortune cookies invented? What is the name of the vehicle that Scooby-Doo and his friends travel in? Which Italian town is the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?  In our last two posts we’ve been dealing with some dangling questions that need to be answered before we bring this series to a close. So far, we have asked (and answered) the following five questions: Does baptism save? Is baptism necessary for salvation? What is accomplished in a baptism? Is the efficacy of baptism tied to that specific moment?  Should we allow rebaptisms?

Questions, Questions

Last week, we started wrapping up this series by answering a series of questions. So, let’s begin today by asking a series of questions (who doesn’t like movie trivia?): What was the name of Quint's boat in Jaws? What was the first feature-length animated movie ever? In what movie do we find Robert De Niro’s great line: "You talkin' to me?" In what movie did Marlon Brando say, “I could have been a contender?"  What was the song that Tom Cruise lip-synced to in Risky Business? The stage play, Everybody Comes to Rick's,was made into what 1942 movie? What were the dying words of Charles Foster Kane?  Here’s the point: Some questions are trivial (see above). Some are not (see below). There are huge theological and pastoral issues at stake in many of our questions about baptism, and we need to approach them as serious matters, even though, at first glance, they seem rather trivial. Last week,


We start this week with some essential questions. If you pamper a cow, do you get spoiled milk? Can atheists get insurance for acts of God?   Do pilots take crash-courses? Why are things typed up but written down?  If Jimmy cracked corn and nobody cared, why did they write a song about it? Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks? Now, you’ve heard all of these questions before. In fact, that is the point of this whole exercise, because today we want to discuss questions everyone has heard before.  But, unlike the above questions, these questions have real answers.  Let’s start off with the one I get all the time: Does baptism save? Let’s ask Peter. In 1 Peter 3:20-22.  Peter writes about Noah and the ark.  He says, “In it [the ark of God’s salvation] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now

Let’s Get Physical, I Mean, Spiritual

When we moved to Canada, our guys were way behind in their ability to skate (even though they had taken some skating lessons here). And one thing is certain in life: if you can’t skate, you can’t play hockey; and if you can’t play hockey (especially in Canada), what is the sense of getting out of bed in the morning? In any case, we immediately enrolled both Dan and Matt in an accelerated skating class, and things started to turn a corner. Unbeknownst to us, however, this preparatory class for playing hockey (think action and mayhem and passion) ended with conscripted participation in an ice-capades-like production of Grease (Oh, the humanity!). Yes, they would show off their newly-developed skating skills, but they would also be dressed in costumes (Dan was a mechanic; Matt was a football player) and forced to do some choreographed skating. And throughout the whole performance, a

Father Abraham, Part 1

Let me be honest, I have never met a Revolutionary War battlefield with which I have not immediately fallen in love.  It’s true, put me on the grounds of any of these National Historical Parks and I will be moved to a sense of reverence and awe within mere seconds; Saratoga (the Boot Memorial is intensely heart-rending), Bunker Hill (those white eyes get me every time), Cowpens (home of Daniel Morgan’s brilliant stratagem), Guilford Courthouse (“Another such victory would ruin the British army!”), and of course, Lexington and Concord (say what you want, but for me, this is holy ground, even more so than Fenway Park). But while these are special places to me, it is the job of all historic parks to move us to remember the past by connecting us with the ground where history was made through monuments, plaques, gravesites, weaponry and engaging landscapes so that we

Mind the Gap

Years ago, I enrolled in a graduate program in Semitic languages at Catholic University. I don’t know what I was thinking. My first class was a two-credit course where we translated the entire book of Jeremiah in 15 weeks.  And while it was only a two-credit class, our professor told us he was treating it like a three-credit course in order to separate the wannabes from the real students. In every class, we were expected to be able to answer any and all questions regarding any grammatical, exegetical or lexical feature of the passage; and if you didn’t know your stuff, you were in trouble. To make things worse, there were only seven of us in the class. No one could hide. Now, to get to CUA, I would take the red line down from Silver Spring. It sounds like a delightful ride, but do not be deceived. Every moment I

The Case of the Mysterious Households

It’s a mystery. So, before we try to solve it, let’s get our head in the game which, you should know by now, is afoot).  Here are a few quotes to ponder: “There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy.” (Ambrose Bierce) “I knew one thing: as soon as anyone said you didn’t need a gun, you’d better take one along.” (Raymond Chandler) “The problem with putting two and two together is that sometimes you get four, and sometimes you get twenty-two.” (Dashiell Hammett)  “You have a grand gift for silence, Watson. It makes you quite invaluable as a companion.” (Sherlock Holmes via Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) And my favorite: “Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right—a chilling thought when you sit down to

Coincidentally and Purposefully

Steven Wright tells the story of two babies who were born on the same day at the same hospital. They lie there and look at each other. Their families came and took them away. Eighty years later, by a bizarre coincidence, they lie in the same hospital, on their deathbeds, next to each other. One of them looked at the other and said, “So, what did you think?” Coincidentally, here are some quotes on coincidences.  From Agatha Christie: “Any coincidence is worth noticing. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.” From Albert Einstein: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” From Ian Fleming: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” From Yogi Berra: “That’s too coincidental to be a coincidence.” And from John Green: “It's hard to believe in coincidence, but it's even harder to believe in anything else.” There is


How long is forever?  I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it is a very long time, maybe even an unending amount of time. How long is forever? Maybe a few quotes will help us figure it out. “Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased. Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken. But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.”  -- Rumi “I know a way to stay friends forever–there's really nothing to it: I tell you what to do, and you do it.” – Shel Silverstein “What love we've given, we'll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity.” – Leo Buscaglia “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.” – Steven Wright And my favorite Hamilton lyrics (from “You’ll Be Back”): “You say my love is draining and

After, Before and In

In order to unlock this post, you must first name six songs (because anyone can name five!) that have the word “water” in the title. With that stipulation, the following songs, even though they are all about water, would not count. In other words, “NO” to songs like “Come Sail Away,” “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” And “YES” to our loophole song of the day, “Waterloo” (ABBA). Even though it is not about water, it still would count since it has “water” in the title. How many can you name in a minute? Go! (That’s right, don’t read on; name that song, and then five more).  Here are my six: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (Simon and Garfunkel), “Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple), “Black Water” (Doobie Brothers), “Wade in the Water” (the spiritual), “Cool Water”

Series Introduction

Let’s talk division (and because we have to, we will even talk some math). We start with a question: “What’s the best way to divide the history of old Rome?” Answer: “It is best to use a pair of Caesars.” Another important question: “Why doesn’t anyone talk to circles?” Answer: “Because there is no point.” By the way, did you hear about the mathematician who’s afraid of negative numbers? He’ll stop at nothing to avoid them.  So bad, but we continue. A high school student called me the other day after he saw his math teacher with a piece of graph paper. He was afraid his teacher was plotting something.  Last one, I promise. After I retire, I’ve decided to become a math teacher, but I am only going to teach subtraction. See, I just want to make a difference. Division is a good thing in math; but in the church, it is (generally-speaking)


At first, it was the gift that counted. We wanted to give gifts to the students in our Edge youth group that they would enjoy.  And what do high school students enjoy most of all? Food. And so, we went with candy and hot chocolate mix and spoons made of peppermint. (I can still remember watching one student chug the hot chocolate mix directly from the package – no drink, no hot, just pure chocolate powder – classic!). But then, I decided, “Forget them and what they like! I want to give gifts that I like!” I love rocks; and so one year, I gave rocks with words printed on them and a card explaining why I chose that particular word for them. I love popcorn, and so one year I gave popcorn because popcorn is holy.  And as you well know, I love good quotes; and so this year,


Let’s reminisce: best trip, worst trip, scariest trip and a trip that you would never take again.  I’ll start.  We loved going to Sweden and Norway. It was a great trip. In fact, it was our best trip.  We went to the Wisconsin Dells once. It was miserable. We also went to some awful cabin in Pennsylvania where the water was so contaminated with rust that when we showered, it stained our hair.  It is tied with the Dells for our most miserable trip.  I was nervous going to China the first time (Could I survive two weeks eating Chinese food? More importantly, would I want to survive eating only Chinese food?). I guess I am a picky eater, because I also felt that way about my first trip to Ukraine. Both fears were terribly, terribly unfounded. And my trip that I would never take again? The last time I


I love quotes. There is no mystery there. In fact, I spend a ton of time trying to find just the right quote to share in whatever I am doing—blogs, sermons, talks, or everyday conversations. And I love origin stories, from how the Hekawi Indian tribe got their name (as they migrated west from Massachusetts, the medicine man said: “I think we lost. Where the heck are we?”) to how I came to love quotes. Years ago (and years and years), I used to read a humor column in the newspaper (something like a news website, but on paper that was delivered to your house). One week, there was a story in that column about a guy who found an intriguing quote and memorized it. He thought it was funny and figured, one day, it would come in handy. Years past and he had never once found the opportunity to


I’m having a Grinch moment, and it is a bit disconcerting. Change that: it is very disconcerting. Here are the lines that tell the whole Grinch story (and yes, Dr. Seuss was a genius):  “Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, Was singing --Without any presents at all! He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” Let’s say it together: “We LOVE this story!” From the

One Last Time Because You’re Ready

Okay, quiz time. Today, we come to the end of this series. What better way to end Knack 2 is there than to have a quiz, but not just any quiz: a quiz on famous last lines in classic fiction. Now, I think the quiz is easy, but, then again, I chose the books. All you have to do is name the author and the book from which each great last line appeared. “I am haunted by humans.”  "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."  "For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo."   "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I

Eight to Get Ready

If you have come to this post for some great advice, you are in luck! In fact, you are in even better luck than you thought because the following advice isn’t coming from me, but from Winston Churchill. Churchill is known both for his wisdom and his wit; and so, here are some of his best pieces of advice.  “When the eagles are silent, the parrots begin to jabber.” “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” “It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.” “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.” “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” “If you're going through hell, keep

Who Tells Your Story?

Hamilton is an amazing show. Incredible story-telling. Phenomenal music. Extraordinary acting. And hundreds of memorable moments. Here are some of my favorite lines:  “I may not live to see our glory, but I will gladly join the fight. And when our children tell our story, they’ll tell the story of tonight.” — Hamilton, “The Story of Tonight” “You want a revolution? I want a revelation. So listen to my declaration: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’ And when I met Thomas Jefferson, I compelled him to include women in the sequel!” — Angelica Schuyler, “The Schuyler Sisters” "Dying is easy, young man; living is harder." -- George Washington, “Right-Hand Man” "If there's a fire you're trying to douse, you can't put it out from inside the house!" -- Thomas Jefferson, “Washington on Your Side” “There are moments that the words don’t reach. There

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